Falcons squeak by Cardinals
The Falcons had to scrap and claw for an ugly victory over the Arizona Cardinals today by a score of 23-19. The Falcons played from behind until the very end of the game. The offense struggled with 6 turnovers on the day. But the defense held firm with a strong performance, which including a turnover-turned-touchdown on their part.
Matt Ryan struggled with 5 interceptions, three of which came off deflected passes. He completed 28 of 46 passes for 301 yards and no touchdowns. On the ground, the Falcons found little success with Michael Turner leading rushers with 46 yards on 15 carries and the Falcons lone offensive touchdown. Roddy White had a good day, catching 8 passes for 123 yards. Harry Douglas (5 catches, 48 yards), and Jacquizz Rodgers (5 catches, 35 yards) also made contributions. Tony Gonzalez had 3 catches for 33 yards, as did Julio Jones who managed to play despite missing the entire week of practice due to an ankle injury. Jones would leave the game late in the third quarter after reaggravating his injury. Matt Bryant was excellent, making all 3 of his field goal attempts from 51, 28, and 48 yards out. Matt Bosher had 4 punts for an average of 51.3 yards with 2 placed inside the 20. Jacquizz Rodgers returned 2 kickoffs for 53 yards, while Dominique Franks had 4 punt returns for 44 yards. The Falcons did give up some return yardage to Arizona on special teams, giving up 125 yards on kickoff returns. The Falcons were able to fare fairly well on third downs throughout the game (7 of 16), but turnovers halted and stalled too many drives, preventing them from scoring their first touchdown until late in the fourth quarter.
Defensively, the Falcons were stout against a weak Arizona Cardinals offense, halting them despite favorable field position on many of the turnovers. The Cardinals struggled to convert third downs, converting only 2 of 16 all game. They held the Cardinals passing game to just 41 yards for the game, although they did give up 137 yards on the ground. The defense was also able to generate a touchdown of their own off a sack-strip by John Abraham, which Jonathan Babineaux picked up for a score. Robert McClain led defenders with 7 tackles. Abraham (5 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble); Babineaux (2 tackles, 1 fumble recovery, 1 touchdown); Kroy Biermann (3 tackles); Akeem Dent (4 tackles); William Moore (5 tackles); Stephen Nicholas (4 tackles, 1 sack); Chris Owens (4 tackles); and Asante Samuel (3 pass deflections) had noteworthy games.
The game did not start well for the Falcons, as Matt Ryan was picked off on his first pass. Looking for Roddy White over the middle, the ball bounced off White’s hands and into the arms of Rashad Johnson, who returned it to the Falcons 9-yard line. Two plays later, LaRod Stephens-Howling ran over Asante Samuel for a 3-yard score to give the Cardinals a 7-0 lead just a minute into the game. On the next Falcons offensive possession, a run by Michael Turner was stuffed for no gain on first down. That was followed by a drop by Turner on second down. Then with pressure in his face, Ryan nearly threw another interception that was dropped by James Sanders. The Falcons punted. On first down for the Cardinals, Stephens-Howling burst off the right side for a 40-yard gain. But the Falcons defense stepped up and the Cardinals did not gain a yard on their next three plays, forcing Jay Feely to kick from 48 yards for his first field goal of the day. The Cardinals now held a 10-0 lead with 11 minutes left in the first quarter. On the next Falcons series, Ryan’s pass on 3rd & 2 was tipped at the line, but landed in the hands of Jacquizz Rodgers who was stopped short of the first down marker and Bosher came onto the field for another punt. His 53-yard punt was downed at the 5-yard line by Jason Snelling to back up the Cardinals. The defense held with a three-and-out and the Cardinals punted. The Falcons would take over at their own 48 on the next series. On 3rd & 13, Ryan hit White for a 26-yard gain over the middle. His next pass to White in the endzone would be thrown a bit too far out of bounds for White to make the grab. On the next play, Darnell Dockett would get his hands on Ryan’s pass, and tip it into the waiting hands of William Gay for the second Ryan interception of the day. The Cardinals took over at their own 26, but again the defense held firm thanks to Asante Samuel’s break up of a pass to Larry Fitzgerald on third down. Samuel injured his shoulder on the play and would not return until the fourth quarter. Ryan would throw his third interception on the next series on 3rd down, thanks to interior pressure from Dockett that forced his pass to sail over the head of Tony Gonzalez and into the arms of Kerry Rhodes. The Cardinals now had the ball at the Falcons 18-yard line. John Skelton would miss an open Fitzgerald in the endzone, working against Robert McClain. Two plays later on third down, a screen to Stephens-Howling would result into what looked to be a fumble recovered by William Moore. Officials ruled Stephens-Howling down, but Falcons head coach Mike Smith chose not to challenge the call, and thus the Cardinals had the opportunity to kick the field goal on fourth down. Feely would make the kick from 28 yards out to give the Cardinals a 13-0 lead with just a minute remaining in the first quarter. To start the second quarter, Ryan would hit White for 9 yards on a 3rd & 6. Then he would later hit Gonzalez for 12 yards on another third down conversion. Another third down would be converted a few plays later due to a 9-yard dump-off to Rodgers. But their next third down attempt on 3rd & 1, a handoff to Jason Snelling would be stuffed by Daryl Washington to force a Matt Bryant field goal. The Falcons would finally get on the scoreboard with a 51-yard kick from Bryant with 9:44 in the second quarter. Ryan Lindley would replace Skelton at quarterback for the Cardinals on the next series. On third down, Lindley would be hit from behind by John Abraham, and the ball would come out. The refs did not blow the play dead, and Jonathan Babineaux caught the Cardinals offensive players unaware, scooped the ball up and ran 15 yards for a touchdown. The play was reviewed, and the officials upheld the ruling on the field of a fumble and score. The Falcons now had cut the Cardinals lead to 3 points quickly. William Powell however would take the ensuing kickoff 65 yards to give the Cardinals favorable field position at the Falcons 35. But again, the defense held on a three-and-out thanks to a drop by Michael Floyd on third down. The Falcons now had another opportunity to put more points on the board with 6:48 left in the half, starting on a drive where they were backed up at their own 9-yard line. Ryan would hit White on the opening play of that drive on a go route for a 37-yard gain. A steady mix of run and pass would get the ball to the Cardinals 10-yard line. But Ryan’s third and goal pass to White in the endzone was broken up by Greg Toler. And Matt Bryant would hit a 28-yard field goal with less than 2 minutes remaining in the half to tie the game 13-13. On the opening play of the next Cardinals drive, Stephens-Howling broke another long gain off the right side for a 52-yard gain to put the ball at midfield for Arizona. But the Cardinals would once again fall short on third down, thanks to a pass breakup by Dunta Robinson. Jay Feely would hit his third field goal of the day on a 38-yarder to give the Cardinals the lead again with 37 seconds left in the half. The Falcons would not be denied however on their next drive. Ryan would hit Jason Snelling on a screen pass on first down for 13 yards. Then Ryan would find Rodgers for a 17-yard pass. Two plays later, he would hit Julio Jones over the middle for 20 yards to set up another Bryant field goal, this time from 48 yards out with just 2 ticks left on the clock. Bryant would hit as the first half came to a close with a tie game at 16-16.
The second half would start with Akeem Dent stuffing Stephens-Howling in the backfield for a 1-yard loss. Larry Fitzgerald would make his first (and only) catch of the day for an 11-yard gain on the next play. Three plays later, the Cardinals would convert their first third down of the day on a 6-yard Lindley pass to Early Doucet. Later on the drive, William Powell’s 2-yard run would convert another 3rd down try. Two plays later however, Stephen Nicholas would burst off the edge to get a sack on Lindley, resulting in a 14-yard loss. On 3rd & 21, pressure on the next play would force Lindley to throw it away and the Cardinals would punt from their own 40. Franks would return the ball 28 yards to give the Falcons a start at their own 41-yard line. On 3rd & 15, Ryan’s pass was overthrown, but a rouging the passer penalty on Daryl Washington would give them a first down and new life on the series. Ryan then took a deep shot to White on the next play, but White was unable to get his head turned around in time to locate the ball as it fell incomplete. Two plays later, Ryan threw a pass into the flat to Jason Snelling who ran 7 yards before the ball was punched out from behind by Sam Acho. Greg Toler would make a tremendous play as the ball was going out of bounds, to knock it back in bounds and into the waiting hands of Rashad Johnson. While the Falcons hoped to challenge the ruling on the field, but since turnovers are automatically challenged, the Falcons were instead penalized when Mike Smith threw the challenge flag. The play was not reviewed subsequently, and the Cardinals took over at their own 42-yard line. But the defense would respond, as pressure by John Abraham on third down would force a poor throw by Lindley. The Cardinals would punt, but an illegal block penalty on Thomas DeCoud would force the Falcons to start from their own 5 yard line. The offense would go three-and-out and Bosher would punt. The Cardinals offense would respond with a three-and-out of their own. On the next Falcons drive, Ryan would be picked off for the fourth time, on a rollout looking for Roddy White. His pass was poorly thrown, and Daryl Washington stepped in front of it. The Cardinals again had favorable field position, starting their drive at the Falcons 16-yard line. But the defense would hold as the fourth quarter begin, and the Cardinals would have to settle for another Feely field goal, from 27 yards out to take a 19-16 lead. On the next Falcons possession, Ryan would hit Harry Douglas on a crossing route for 12 yards on a 3rd & 6. Ryan’s next third down pass to Drew Davis would fall short of the first down marker, and Bosher would punt again, helping to pin the Cardinals inside their own 20 once more. On 3rd & 1, the Falcons would stuff Stephens-Howling for no gain, and the Cardinals punted after a three-and-out. Ryan would hook up with Douglas again on the first two plays of the next series, going for a combined 37 yards to put the ball in Cardinals territory. An 18-yard throw to White would be followed up by a 5-yard run by Turner. Two plays later, Ryan would find Gonzalez for a 9-yard gain, as Gonzalez fought his way to the 1-yard line. On the next play, Turner ran off the left side for a 1-yard score. The Falcons had scored their first offensive touchdown with 6:42 remaining in the game. And the Falcons finally took their first lead of the game, 23-19. Thanks to Abraham’s third down sack of Lindley, the Cardinals were forced to punt after another three-and-out. But however, on the second play of the Falcons drive to try and close out the game, Ryan had another pass tipped by Dan Williams and picked off by Sam Acho. The Cardinals had another opportunity at the Falcons 32-yard line, but Stephens-Howling was stopped for no gain on 3rd & 2. The Cardinals would go for it on 4th down, but Lindley’s pass to Fitzgerald was dropped as Fitzgerald was going to the ground out of bounds. The Falcons now took over with 3 minutes left in the game at their own 24-yard line. They opted to run three straight times rather than risk another interception. Rodgers 6-yard gain on 3rd & 2 as the 2-minute warning hit was what sealed the game. The Falcons would proceed to kneel on the ball three straight times and the game was over.
Next week the Falcons will travel to take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, only their third NFC South matchup of the year. The Bucs (6-4) are in second place in the NFC South, and the result of the game could be pivotal to who can gain some momentum within the division. The Falcons have won 6 of their last 7 games against the Buccaneers. Their lone loss came on the road last year with a 16-13 loss. Under Mike Smith, the Falcons are 6-2 against the Buccaneers. The Buccaneers sport a 3-2 home record so far this year under first-year head coach Greg Schiano.